No. 2 seed Tug Valley overcame a slow start against No. 7 seed Cameron in the opening round of the Class A boys basketball state tournament and pulled away late to clinch a 69-55 win Tuesday afternoon at the Charleston Coliseum.
The Panthers (14-2) advanced to the semifinals at 11:15 a.m. Thursday against No. 3 seed Pendleton County (16-0), which defeated Greenbrier West 59-45 Tuesday morning.
“That was a struggle. You’ve got to give Cameron a lot of credit,” said Tug Valley coach Garland “Rabbit” Thompson. “They really took it to us. Every time we would get a little run and get up to a six- to eight-point lead there, they would keep coming back.
“Luckily we had enough in us to pull it out down the stretch and I’m thankful to come out with a win.”
The Panthers came out sluggish to start the game after a 12-day layoff as Cameron (11-5) jumped out to a 15-11 lead at the end of one quarter after a late bucket from Colson Wichterman.
The Dragons took their largest lead of the game at 23-16 with 4:24 to play in the second quarter after a 3-pointer from Logan Burkett forced a timeout by Thompson to settle his team down. Coming out of the timeout, the Panthers turned up the defensive pressure and forced seven turnovers in the final four minutes of the quarter, which led to some easy buckets as they ended the quarter on a 13-2 run.
Senior Caleb May, who finished with a game-high 32 points and eight steals for Tug Valley, scored the final six points of the quarter to help his team take a 29-25 lead into halftime.
“Coach tells us that defense wins championships — that was probably the main focus coming into the game,” May said. “Defense turns into offense. We’ve really been working hard on playing better defense and that’s what it’s going to take to keep winning.”
Tug Valley extended its lead to 38-30 in the third quarter after a putback by Ethan Colegrove, but the Dragons went on a 7-0 run to cut the lead to 38-37 after a 3-pointer from Conner Powell with 3:24 to play in the third. The Panthers got buckets from Colegrove, Ian Reed and Justin Hall in the final minutes of the third to take a 44-39 lead into the fourth quarter.
Tug quickly added to its lead in the fourth quarter and took its first double-digit lead with 3:44 left after another bucket from May.
The Dragons cut the lead back to six at 61-55 following a Tug Valley turnover with 55 seconds to go, but the Panthers scored the final eight points to secure the 14-point win.
Colegrove joined May in double figures for Tug Valley with 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds, five coming on the offensive end. Ian Reed and Easton Davis each added eight points, and Reed led the team with nine rebounds while dishing three assists and picking up three steals. Justin Hall rounded out the scoring column for Tug Valley with six points and six rebounds.
The Dragons were led by 6-foot-7 junior center Trevor Beresford and sophomore Cole Burkett, who each netted 13 points. Cameron was making its first boys state tournament appearance since 1926 when the event was held in Buckhannon.
The Panthers move on to the state semifinals for the first time since 2018, when they fell to Ravenswood. Thompson spoke about the challenge ahead from Pendleton, which enters riding a 39-game winning streak dating back to the 2019-20 season.
“They’re big, strong and undefeated for two years now,” Thompson said. “Their coach said that they are cerebral, and they most certainly are. They are extremely well-coached, they know their flaws but they also know their strengths. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”